The Ball Poem

By John Berryman 1914–1972 John Berryman
What is the boy now, who has lost his ball.
What, what is he to do? I saw it go
Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
Merrily over—there it is in the water!
No use to say 'O there are other balls':
An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
All his young days into the harbour where
His ball went. I would not intrude on him,
A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
He senses first responsibility
In a world of possessions. People will take balls,
Balls will be lost always, little boy,
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
Knowing what every man must one day know
And most know many days, how to stand up
And gradually light returns to the street,
A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight.
Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark
Floor of the harbour . . I am everywhere,
I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move
With all that move me, under the water
Or whistling, I am not a little boy.

John Berryman, "The Ball Poem" from Collected Poems, 1937-1971. Copyright © 1989 by John Berryman. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.

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Source: Collected Poems, 1937-1971 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989)

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Poet John Berryman 1914–1972

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Subjects Living, Coming of Age, Disappointment & Failure, Youth, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics

 John  Berryman

Biography

A scholar and professor as well as a poet, John Berryman is best-known for The Dream Songs, an intensely personal sequence of 385 poems which brought him the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. In these he invented a style and form able to accommodate a vast range of material while expressing his turbulent emotions.

Born John Smith in McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1914, Berryman suffered a great loss at 12 when his father shot . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Disappointment & Failure, Youth, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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